The Welsh Conservatives launch their local election manifesto today. It's a document that emphasises what the Tories think should happen at a local level, committing the party to freezing council tax, abolishing rates for small businesses and funding schools directly. They also promise to increase the NHS budget and make the planning system more flexible.
The elections next month will be the first test of the party's support since Andrew RT Davies took over as the party's leader in the Assembly last year. The Conservatives are clear that his leadership role is confined to heading up the Tory AMs. The Welsh Secretary, Cheryl Gillan will enjoy at least equal billing with him in this campaign.
– Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan MP
These elections matter because they affect every person, every street, every town, every village and every city in the country. They matter because they determine the future of communities across Wales, from the state of the roads to whether litter is collected and whether schools are properly funded, to how local services are delivered. These elections are a chance for communities to get their voice back so they can determine their own future, not have it dictated to them.
– Conservative Assembly Group Leader Andrew RT Davies AM
This manifesto is about giving local people the ability and the choice to change their communities for the better; to be treated in local hospitals, to be able to hold their local politicians to account, and to create local jobs and develop local business. We are on the side of communities the length and breadth of Wales and we want to put power back into their hands.
Andrew RT Davies will probably still get the higher profile. The manifesto has little to say about the actions of the Westminster Government but many of the manifesto commitments reflect the issues that the Tories regularly raise in the Senedd. Only a few policies are direct pledges about what Conservative run councils will do, such as action to tackle litter, dog-fouling and road repairs.
It would be hard for Conservative controlled councils to commit to a council tax freeze without the Welsh government offering the same incentives as the Westminster and Edinburgh governments have given to English and Scottish local authorities. Only Cardiff Bay can decide to directly fund schools and it's AMs who vote on the NHS budget. Even planning decisions, although usually taken by local councils, have to follow guidelines set by Welsh ministers.
Conservative-run councils could commit to the party's policy of publishing details of all spending over £500. One pound is already enough to trigger disclosure in Monmouthshire where the Tories hope to keep overall control. They're also battling to stay in power in the Vale of Glamorgan and Cheryl Gillan has set the party a target of taking over in Conwy. The election will also decide the fate of the Welsh version of the Westminster coalition, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat alliance that runs Newport.